Thursday, January 11, 2007

History of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal: Kiss

Rooted in the campy theatrics of Alice Cooper and the sleazy hard rock of glam rockers the New York Dolls, Kiss became a favorite of American teenagers in the '70s. Most kids were infatuated with the look of Kiss, not their music. Decked out in outrageously flamboyant costumes and makeup, the band fashioned a captivating stage show featuring dry ice, smoke bombs, elaborate lighting, blood spitting, and fire breathing that captured the imaginations of thousands of kids.

But Kiss' music shouldn't be dismissed — it was a commercially potent mix of anthemic, fist-pounding hard rock driven by sleek hooks and ballads powered by loud guitars, cloying melodies, and sweeping strings. It was a sound that laid the groundwork for both arena rock and the pop-metal that dominated rock in the late '80s.

Kiss was the brainchild of Gene Simmons (bass, vocals) and Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar, vocals), former members of the New York-based hard rock band Wicked Lester; the duo brought in drummer Peter Criss through his ad in Rolling Stone and guitarist Ace Frehley responded to an advertisement in The Village Voice. Even at their first Manhattan concert in 1973, the group's approach was quite theatrical; Flipside producer Bill Aucoin offered the band a management deal after the show.

Two weeks later, the band was signed to Neil Bogart's fledgling record label, Casablanca. Kiss released their self-titled debut in February of 1974; it peaked at number 87 on the U.S. charts. By April of 1975, the group had released three albums and had toured America constantly, building up a sizable fan base. Culled from those numerous concerts, Alive! (released in the fall of 1975) made the band rock & roll superstars; it climbed into the Top Ten and its accompanying single, "Rock 'N' Roll All Nite," made it to number 12.

Their follow-up, Destroyer, was released in March of 1976 and became the group's first platinum album; it also featured their first Top Ten single, Peter Criss' power ballad "Beth." A 1977 Gallup poll named Kiss the most popular band in America. Kiss mania was in full swing and thousands of pieces of merchandise hit the marketplace. The group had two comic books released by Marvel, pinball machines, makeup and masks, board games, and a live-action TV movie, Kiss Meet the Phantom of the Park. The group was never seen in public without wearing their makeup and their popularity was growing by leaps and bounds; the membership of the Kiss Army, the band's fan club, was now in the six figures.

Dynasty, released in 1979, continued their streak of platinum albums, yet it was their last recorded with the original lineup — Criss left in 1980. Kiss Unmasked, released in the summer of 1980, was recorded with session drummer Anton Fig; Criss' permanent replacement, Eric Carr, joined the band in time for their 1980 world tour. Kiss Unmasked was their first record since Destroyer to fail to go platinum, and 1981's Music From the Elder, their first album recorded with Carr, didn't even go gold — it couldn't even climb past number 75 on the charts. Ace Frehley left the band after its release.

In 1996, the original lineup of Kiss — featuring Simmons, Stanley, Frehley, and Criss — reunited to perform an international tour, complete with their notorious makeup and special effects. The tour was one of the most successful of 1996, and in 1998 the reunited group issued Psycho Circus.

Kiss continues to tour to packed houses and its legend of fans are hardcore. There is no doubt about the influence of Kiss, from the stage shows to the music, the group remains one of the most successful and influential in rock history.

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